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Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 1983, volume 1, pages 59-72

Towards an understanding of the gender division of urban

L McDowell
Faculty of Social Sciences, The Open University, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, England
Received 21 June 1982; in revised form 7 September 1982

Abstract. The paper contains a critical review of urban theory and of some current work in urban
studies on 'women's issues'. It is argued that the nature of the changing interrelationships between
production and reproduction, as part of a single inseparable process that varies across space and
over time, should be the key focus for a feminist urban studies. Ways in which an understanding of
these changing relationships can add to the analysis of housing policy in postwar Britain are outlined.
The principal aim of the paper is advocacy, and the plea is for feminist theory and feminist
analysis. It is beginning to be accepted that urban studies, by ignoring gender divisions, is neglecting
an important structuring element of urban space and urban processes. Recognition of the
significance of gender divisions, however, must not lead to an insistence on analysis focusing solely
on women and women's behaviour. Thus the object of feminist research should not be women
alone, but rather the structure of social relations that contributes to female oppression, this involving
confrontation with the theoretical issues raised by an analysis of patriarchy (a term used here to refer
to temporally and spatially specific relations between men and women, rather than to the oppression
of all women in all forms of society). Despite the advances already made in integrating women's
lives into urban studies, a large number of the studies about women and the urban environment are
ultimately unsatisfactory. Their foci stop short at the description and analysis of women's behaviour
only. However, this is not to denigrate the very real function they serve in bringing gender
differences to the research forefront. After a review of the literature on gender differences in the
organisation, use, and conception of urban space, a more specific focus for a feminist urban studies
is outlined, with an example of how this might be applied to the historical analysis of postwar
housing policy in Britain.

Women and space

Although women, as distinct from men, have only recently been considered in urban
studies, there is a large body of evidence from a number of disciplinary areas to
show that men and women's conception, experience, and use of space is different.
Child psychologists have documented differences in the spatial abilities of infant boys
and girls (Piaget and Inhelder, 1956), which apparently are reflected later on in
subject choice and scholastic ability. There also seems to be a more general awareness
that women's reactions to spatial structure are different from those of men. Morris
(1974), for example, who became a woman after forty years of being a man, wrote
in her autobiography Conundrum that she no longer focused on general urban
perspectives but on "the interiors of houses ... polished knockers, the detail of
architrave or nameplate. I look at the place more intimately, perhaps because I feel
myself integral to the city's life at last .... I am at one with it, linked by an eager
empathy with the homelier things about it ..." (Morris, 1974, pages 157-158).
Many women resent, rather than enjoy, their restriction to 'homelier things'
(Tivers, 1977). However, there are strong pressures exerted on women to physically
restrict themselves to the domestic aspects of cities and urban life. These range
from ways of restricting their mobility (from corsets and high heels to jokes about
women drivers) to an ideology which encourages women to consider themselves
physically frail. This is not to deny the real problems that arise from vulnerability
to rape, which influence how women use space. London women, for example, had to
campaign to 'reclaim the streets' in part of the capital. Indeed the ideology that a


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'woman's place is in the home' is so strong that in the recent summing up of a rape
case the judge implied that rape was a woman's own fault if she were out alone at
night, in this particular case in a rural area with infrequent public transport services
(New Society, 1982).
Gender divisions of space are common in many societies. In a recent collection of
papers by the Women's Studies Committee of the University of Oxford, a group of
anthropologists have shown how the patterning of space by gender and the restriction
of women to 'private' domains is a feature of rural and urban, capitalist and socialist,
societies (Ardener, 1981). The definition of privacy, however, is culturally specific.
In conventional urban theory, habitual and almost unthinking distinctions abound:
between the public and the private sectors, the city and the suburbs, work and home,
production and reproduction. The latter worlds and locations, usually assumed to be
uniquely those of women, typically have been ignored, but the former, often falsely
equated with those of men, have been the subject matter for theory and analysis. If
home-based activities or domestic decisions are considered at all, it is on the basis of
an aggregate stereotypical household unit headed by an employed male, despite the
shrinking number of households who conform to this ideal (Stapleton, 1980). The
internal hierarchical structure of power and the often conflicting interests of individual
household members are not viewed as relevant study areas by these theorists.
The 'new' urban theory has partly remedied the neglect of the sphere of reproduction.
Castells (1978), for example, in the passage below, clearly recognises the vital
importance of unpaid domestic labour in maintaining the structure of capitalist cities:
"In the end, if the system still 'works' it is because women guarantee unpaid
transportation ..., because they repair their homes, because they make meals when
there are no canteens, because they spend more time shopping around, because
they look after others' children when there are no nurseries, and because they
offer 'free entertainment' to the producers when there is a social vacuum and an
absence of cultural creativity. If these women who 'do nothing' ever stopped to
do 'only that', the whole urban structure as we know it would become completely
incapable of maintaining its functions" (Castells, 1978, pages 177-178).
However, by defining 'the urban' as the sphere of collective consumption, Castells
then proceeds to ignore the significance of domestic labour. His focus on collective
rather than privatised consumption or, more generally, on the social relations of the
reproduction of labour power means that the city itself tends to be seen as the agent
of reproduction. Consequently, the role of the family and of patriarchy is neglected.
Indeed, so gender blind are the majority of urban theorists that they seem unaware
of the importance of the shifting boundaries between collectively provided and
individually provided goods and services. The current cuts, in Britain and elsewhere,
in 'welfare' services, for example, have implications both for relations between men
and women within the family and for women's participation in the labour market.
Not only do women service their immediate family but they also form the majority
of workers in many of the state-provided consumption services (Cockburn, 1977;
Lentell, 1982; Wilson, 1977).
Women and urban research
Some of the criticisms of urban studies are gradually becoming invalid. The long
absence of women from the urban landscape is being counterbalanced by an explosion
of published work documenting certain aspects of women's lives and women's
behaviour in Western capitalist cities^\ This research, which may be loosely classified
as 'urban', seems to fall into one of four main categories. First, there is a growing
W Although there is a growing body of work on women in other societies, it is excluded from the
review in this paper.

Towards an understanding of the gender division of urban space


number of books, articles, and reports documenting women's unequal access to urban
goods and services and the constraints on their spatial behaviour. Although seldom
explicitly located in theory, this work tends to fit into the neo-Weberian or 'welfare
geography' tradition. In the area of housing, for example, there are now published
data illustrating women's unequal access to public and private housing in the UK
(Austerberry and Watson, 1981; Brion and Tinker, 1980); women's problems in
obtaining mortgage finance in the USA (Shalala and McGeorge, 1981); the unmet
needs of particular subgroups of women, such as single parents (Anderson-Khleif,
1981); and the costs and benefits of spatial segregation (Ettore, 1978). Other work
includes women's use of transportation facilities (Coutras and Fagnani, 1978; Pickup,
1982); shopping behaviour (Bowlby, 1981); access to childcare facilities (Fodor, 1978;
Tivers, 1977); more general studies of spatial and temporal activity patterns (Hanson
and Hanson, 1980; Palm and Pred, 1978); and the disjunction or lack of fit between
women's needs and behaviour on the one hand and the environments of the home and
the local neighbourhood, especially in the suburbs and planned communities, on the
other (Duncan, 1981; Fava, 1980; Kaplan, 1981; Keller, 1981; Rothblatt et al, 1979).
A second group of work focuses on women and urban design, reporting the impact
of a small number of influential women on, for example, the design of urban parks
(Cranz, 1981); on the internal layout of dwellings (Hayden, 1978; 1980a; 1981);
and on the architecture profession more generally (Torre, 1977). A second strand of
this work concentrates on the absence, rather than the presence, of women from the
design professions (Leavitt, 1980), and also from academia (Zelinsky, 1973a; 1973b;
McDowell, 1979; Momsen, 1980). Many of these authors appear to be suggesting a
direct link between the unmet needs of women in the built environment and male
domination in the design professions, ignoring the wider social structures that also
contribute to women's oppression. In a prescriptive way, a third and related set of
papers takes up the theme of the second group and speculates on the form of a
nonsexist city (Hayden, 1980b). By stretching the definition of urban, the work of
writers such as Le Guin (1971) and Piercy (1978) might be included here. A small
number of papers that record women's struggles to change their environment (Mayo,
1977; Movimento di Lotta Femminile, 1972; Rose, 1978) also conveniently fall
into this category.
Despite the eclecticism of the research reviewed above, in the issues covered and the
approach adopted, they are united, with the possible exception of the transportation
studies, by their common focus on the 'private' sphere of women's lives. The
segregation of male and female roles and women's isolation in the family tends to be
taken for granted and is described rather than explained. There is a fourth and
growing body of work, however, predominantly undertaken from a Marxist perspective
and/or by socialist feminists, which is developing an historical analysis of the origins
of women's current oppression and the privatisation of family life in capitalist
industrialisation. During the nineteenth century in Britain, the segregation of
production and reproduction and the allocation of gender-specific roles was virtually
completed. Industrial production became a male-dominated sector, and from the
late nineteenth century a belief in the home as the centre of social, not working, life
became predominant. Delmar (1976) has characterised this as the period of the
"domestification of the working class" (page 283), whereas Davidoff et al (1976)
have adopted the phrase 'the beau ideal' to refer to the interlinking between an
idealisation of rural life and the home as haven, which found a specific expression in
British design and layout. Mackenzie and Rose (1983) have begun to draw out more
general relationships between urban structure and nineteenth-century changes in the
social organisation of production and reproduction, using empirical material from
Toronto, Canada (Mackenzie, 1980) and from London, England (Rose, 1981).


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Work within this tradition in urban studies, however, concentrating as it does on

various aspects of the relations of reproduction, still tends to focus on one side of
the private/public dichotomy. Feminist economists, however, using a similar
conceptual framework, have linked the specific form of the sexual division of labour
to the development of industrial capitalism in order to analyse women's domestic
labour and their position in the labour market. Beechey (1977; 1978) has shown
how the patriarchal organisation of domestic labour determines the context of
women's waged labour (2) . Women, because of the social relations of production
within the home, are relatively powerless in the labour market and are concentrated
in poorly paid sectors of the economy. There is also a voluminous literature
demonstrating that domestic labour is part of the capitalist mode of production and
not a separate mode [Gardiner, 1976; Harrison, 1973; Himmelweit and Mohun,
1977; Molyneux, 1979; but see Delphy (1980) for a counterargument].
The relationship between women's domestic labour and women's waged labour,
however, is neither unchanging nor unproblematic, but is a source of internal
contradictions for capitalism and an arena of actual and potential struggles as women
are drawn into and expelled from the labour market. The growing strength of the
domestic ideal in the nineteenth century tends to conceal the fact that almost a third
of all women in Great Britain have been in paid employment since 1881. This
percentage remained almost constant (apart from the war years) until 1951, when it
began to rise. The middle-class ideal of the leisured wife, for example, depended on
the labour of her working-class sisters. Further, some socialisation of domestic labour
has always been necessary to facilitate the entry of women into the labour market.
An understanding of patriarchy and the organisation of domestic labour thus allows
questions about why and which areas of reproduction became socialised and which
remained privatised to become 'the urban question' rather than the exclusive focus on
collective consumption suggested by Castells (1977). It also provides a more
satisfactory focus than the oversimple dichotomy between the public and the private
sectors, work and home, that is common in much feminist urban analysis. Thus, I
would argue that the focus of Marxist and feminist urban studies must be the interrelationship of production and reproduction as part of a single process.
Production, reproduction, and space
It is now generally recognised that space is socially constructed and in its turn, once
bounded and shaped, influences social relations. As Urry (1981) has recently argued,
spatial relations "are themselves social, socially produced and socially reproducing"
(page 458). Thus, the division of urban space both reflects and influences the sexual
division of labour, women's role in the family, and the separation of home life from
work that developed in the period of capitalist industrialisation. Gender divisions are
made concrete and further strengthened by land-use policies that segregate 'nonconforming' uses. However, the particular form of these divisions and the consequences
for social relations between men and women are neither inevitable nor constant. The
relations between production and reproduction vary over time and in space, as does
^ The concept of patriarchy which has been developed in feminist writings is not a single or
simple concept, but has a number of different meanings. At its most general level, it refers to the
power relationships in which men dominate women. Marxist feminists have further defined the
term in an attempt to relate women's subordination to the organisation of various modes of
production. A detailed discussion of these attempts and the different usages of the concept is
inappropriate here (but see Beechey, 1979); however, it should be apparent from the paper that
I am using the term to refer to temporally and spatially specific relations between men and women,
rather than to the oppression of all women in all forms of society. I do not believe that the form of
women's subordination can be separated from other forms of oppression in capitalist societies.

Towards an understanding of the gender division of urban space


the social construction of gender and patriarchal domination. In the rest of this
paper, a number of examples of the changing relationships between production,
reproduction, and British urban policy and housing policy are outlined. The
inferences made are somewhat speculative as they are based on an as yet incomplete
study of national legislation, white papers, planning reports, and other documents
from the postwar period.
State housing in the postwar period
There has been little, if any, specific analysis of the origins of state housing in Britain
that links the form and location of such housing to the sexual division of labour and
the ideology of home and community, although the more general significance of
housing conditions for the reproduction of labour power and social relations has been
recognised (Merrett, 1979; Pickvance, 1976). Yet the impetus for large-scale
intervention in the housing market has ^arisen on each occasion from the aftermath of
a world war, both times accompanied by radical changes in female participation in
waged labour. Thus during both world wars, large numbers of women entered the
labour force, taking over traditional male areas of employment and challenging the
myth that women's only role is in the home. Single women were drafted into war
work and large numbers of married women were engaged in voluntary activities. In
addition, the nuclear family was disrupted and, with the evacuation of several
thousand children in the early years of the war, the mother's central role in childcare was challenged. During the early 1940s, there was also communal provision of
previously privatised domestic services. As well as the familiar and well-documented
expansion of state-provided childcare, some women were freed from an additional
area of domestic labour by the establishment of restaurants and cafeterias run by
local authorities. At their peak in December 1943, there were just over 2000 of
these. As Roberts (1981) has pointed out, British restaurants were part of a
communal feeding programmewhich also included the school meals service,
industrial canteens, and the rural pie-scheme for landworkersthat challenged "the
assumption of women's domestic role and the supremacy of the family as the base
institution of social life" (Roberts, 1981, page 1). It might have been expected that
this programme would have led to discussions of women's roles in postwar society and
of the implications for house building and planning policy.
In certain of the documents of the war years and early postwar period, there was
indeed some recognition of the constrictions on women's lives imposed by housing
form and location. The Reith Committee Report (1946), which predated the 1946
New Towns Act, for example, contained the surprisingly radical recommendation for
day and night nurseries and communal restaurants. As Reith wrote: "war-time
experiences have strengthened the impulse to escape from the necessity of preparing
and clearing up every meal in the week" (Reith Committee Report, 1946, page 42),
but any impression that he was concerned with equality for all women was marred
by his rider: "hired domestic help is unlikely ever to become as plentiful as it once
was, and women naturally want to take what respite they can from work in the
home" (1946, page 42). It seems clear that women's general oppression was only
recognised because of the plight of servantless middle-class women.
Beveridge, architect of the social insurance programme, also noted the relationship
between housing provision and women's oppression. Thus the Beveridge Report
(1942) contained the following statements:
"The housewife's job with a large family is frankly impossible and will remain so,
unless some of what now has to be done separately in every homewashing all
clothes, cooking every meal, being in charge of every child every moment when it
is not in schoolcan be done communally outside the home" (page 264);


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"Nothing short of a revolution in housing would give the working housewife the
equivalent of the two hours of additional leisure a day on five days a week that
has come to the wage earner in the past seventy years" (page 275).
But, like Reith, Beveridge too did not seem to be quite the radical advocate of change
in women's domestic roles that he at first appeared. Married women, in particular,
were sternly warned that "the attitude of the housewife to gainful employment outside the home is not and should not be that of a single woman, she has other duties ..."
(Beveridge Report, 1942, page 52).
Communal provision for domestic labour was not, in fact, a new idea in the 1940s,
for it had an honourable precedent among the founding fathers of the new towns.
Unwin advocated cooperative housing arrangements in his 1901 publication The Art
of Building a Home, and he seems to have interested Ebenezer Howard in the idea.
In the early garden cities of Letch worth and Welwyn, experiments in cooperative
housekeeping were established. In Letchworth, for example, thirty-two kitchenless
houses with a communal dining hall were built in 1909, and further units were
erected in 1915 and 1924. Initially, the women tenants cooked one meal a day on
a two-week rotation, but later a cook was employed. This system lasted until the
end of the 1940s. Similar arrangements were also organised in Welwyn Garden City.
Unfortunately these experiments did not influence the later generation of new-town
designers and builders. Concern for community participation, to involve all citizens,
degenerated into a purely physical arrangementthe neighbourhood principle.
Neighbourhoods were designed as self-contained groups of several hundred houses
with associated local facilities of shops, parks, a primary school, and primary health
care, interpreted by their male architects as reducing travel time and costs for
women and children, but actually reducing choice and mobility. Housing provision
was uniformly traditional, comprising two- and three-bedroomed units, which firmly
placed each individual housewife whereincreasingly during the 1950sshe was
considered to belong. The master plans, research reports and memoranda, and
academic and official evaluations of the early new towns all ignore questions of
gender differentiation, women's waged and domestic labour, apart from a few asides
about the need for locally based female employment opportunities for the 'less
mobile' female population (see Hall et al, 1973). Domestic virtues of 'neatness
and tidiness' were reflected in the architecture and settlement design and planners
regarded themselves as "societal housekeepers" (Hall et al, 1973, page 370).
The design, management, and allocation of state housing also reflects the patriarchal
assumptions of local state policy. In the early postwar years there was a great
emphasis on providing labour-saving devices within the home. Fitted kitchens were
seen as particularly important, by the new Labour Government and by professionals
alike. Dr Jane Drew, an architect, in an interview for Women's Illustrated, voiced
this opinion: "I feel that every woman agrees that household drudgery must be
banished after the war and that's why I'm concentrating on kitchens" (in Roberts,
1981, page 7), and later in the interview: "incidentally ... aircraft factories can be
easily adapted to making this kitchen equipment after the war" (1981, page 7).
The policy of providing a fitted kitchen in each individual dwelling unit built by the
State eventually became enshrined in the Parker Morris Committee Report (1961).
In the allocation of council housing, considerable emphasis is placed on domestic
virtues, such as housekeeping standards and cleanliness. Prospective tenants are
inspected by housing visitors (Ungerson, 1971), who may arrive unannounced, and
families are graded according to their suitability for particular types of property.
Various minority groups, including 'problem' families, single parents, and ethnic
minorities, many of whom are headed by unsupported women, frequently receive the

Towards an understanding of the gender division of urban space


poorest dwellings in the lowest status areas (Skellington, 1981). In the early postwar
years, explicit advice on the standards expected in the new house was handed out,
without a doubt aimed at women who, virtually without exception, were excluded
from the actual tenancy agreement. In the 1950s, one housing manager advised:
"Keep your home clean and tidy. Endeavour to have some method of cleaning
as you go along; do not try to clean the whole house in one day. Regular bedtimes for children and adults except on special occasions. Sit down properly at
table. Hang up your pots and pans or put them on a shelf ..." (in Ward, 1974,
page 12).
Such patronising advice is no longer usual, although, as Tucker (1966) makes clear,
local housing authorities:
"prize above all a good (i.e. solvent, tractable, clean and quiet) tenant and tend to
favour him as any private landlord would. Because he is deemed likely to treat it
carefully, he is generally given one of the authority's newest and best homes"
(1966, page 11, my emphasis).
The expansion of owner occupation
The postwar decades in Britain saw a great expansion in house building for owner
occupation, although it was not until 1959 that the number of completions by
private developers exceeded local authority completions (see Merrett, 1979, page 247).
The assumption that domestic labour was women's main or even sole role found even
clearer expression in speculative housing developments than in state building. Twoand three-bedroomed houses for the 'traditional' family erected on urban peripheries
were the preferred form; these increased the distance between home and 'work', thus
exacerbating women's isolation (Rothblatt et al, 1979). The suburbs were regarded
as places for rest and recovery from the rigours of waged labour. Williams (1960),
for example, has spoken of the suburbs as "an area of recreation from which the
facts of production had been banished" (page 6).
The growth of owner occupation and suburbanisation has recently been subjected
to exciting critical reanalysis. In Britain, Bassett and Short (1980), Boddy (1980),
Kemeney (1981), Pawley (1978), and Williams (1976), among others, have drawn
attention to the significance of owner occupation as a stabilising and conservative
influence. The development of an ideology that portrays home ownership as a
"basic and natural desire" (DoE, 1977, page 50), has been traced. Boddy (1980),
for example, quoted the 1971 White Paper Fair Deal for Housing (DoE, 1971) as
representative of this ideology:
"Home ownership is the most rewarding form of house tenure. It satisfies a deep
and natural desire on the part of the householder to have independent control of
the house that shelters him and his family. It gives him greatest possible security
against the loss of his home ... if the householder buys his house on a mortgage,
he builds up by steady saving a capital asset for him and his dependents" (DoE,
1971, page 4, my emphasis).
What Boddy (1980) and many other British commentators ignored are the blatant
ideological assumptions about women's roles and family structure, also embodied in
housing policy and in the so-called natural desires for ownership. Work on home
ownership by Rose (1980) is, however, an honourable exception. In a paper originally
given to the Conference of Socialist Economists, she argued that a theoretically
informed and historically grounded understanding of home ownership must include
an analysis of its contribution to the subordination of women. However, she also
believes that in certain aspects the home is a 'noncapitalist environment'. It may be
a real refuge from workplace domination, and Rose argues that its positive values
should not be ignored by orthodox left or feminist theorists.


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In the USA, Harvey (1974; 1975; 1977; 1978) has outlined general relationships
between housing production and location on the one hand and wider economic
functions on the other, suggesting that suburbanisation might counter tendencies
towards overaccumulation and falling profits in the US economy. More recently,
Walker (1981) has published an ambitious attempt to devise a theory of suburbanisation
which attempts to draw out some of the links, argued for here, between production,
consumption, and the reproduction of labour power. Although he recognises the
importance of a 'cult of domesticity', he focuses on the consequences for class rather
than gender divisions, and he ignores some of the contradictions both for capital and
for individual women that arise from suburbanisation.
Suburban consumption
The development of a suburban life-style based on individual families' consumption
of an ever-growing range of consumer durables has supported the rise of vast new
industries. The domestic ethic has been manipulated since World War II to encourage
the consumption by both sexes, but particularly by women, of a new range of
products. The disjunction between the reality of suburban isolation and idealised
images of wives and mothers as creative managers of modern homes was probably
greatest in the USA in the 1950s. Friedan's The Feminine Mystique (1963) vividly
documents the implications: the 1950s baby boom; the frightening decline in the
percentage of girls going to college (from 47% in 1920 to 35% in 1958); the rise of
the home sewing industry as a multi-million-dollar business; the growing recognition
by advertisers that women who were freed from domestic drudgery by appliances,
who were healthy, reasonably educated, and relatively affluent, were 'free' to choose
clothes, automobiles, and endless domestic appliances. The boast that women wielded
75% of the purchasing power in the USA was not taken lightly. 'Professionalisation'
and specialisation of domestic products followed: women were presented by
advertisers as experts choosing, between different products in order to run an
efficient home.
Similar stages can be documented in Britain: the immediate postwar rush into the
'security' of home and children; the postwar baby boom, followed by another in the
late 1950s; the closure of day nurseries; the spectre of latchkey kids and pseudoscientific theories of maternal deprivation; the rise of commercial television and
other forms of advertising presenting images of domestic life; the phenomenal boom
of building societies becoming big business, hiding behind a smokescreen of helping
the small saver and the family. The Abbey National, Britain's second-largest building
society, has carefully encouraged this image. Their logo of a couple striding arm in
arm into the future, under an umbrella fashioned from the roof of a house, has been
in use since World War II.
53% of the total housing stock in Britain is now owner occupied, and, although
the importance of owner occupation varies by social class, it is no longer restricted
to a privileged minority. Appreciating house values have become an integral part of
the domestic economy of many households: hundreds of thousands of suburban
owner occupiers rely upon the rising capital value of their house for increased
purchasing power. Freehold home ownership is often used as security against the
purchase of large-scale consumer durables, frequently on credit. Thus manufacturers,
importers, and retailers of cars, freezers, washing machines, colour TV sets, sound
systems, furniture, garden accessories, and so on rely on the continued demand for,
and appreciating value of, the traditional suburban home to maintain demand for
their products. So in their turn they support the conservative play-safe strategy of
building societies that results in the majority of mortgages going to young married
men. The rising rates of ownership of these durable goods purportedly freed women

Towards an understanding of the gender division of urban space


from many of their conventional tasks: what McCrae (1963) rather fancifully called
"the deproletarianization of the working class woman" (page 993). However, as
research by Oakley (1974) convincingly demonstrates, for most women the burden
of domestic work has not noticeably decreased.
Dual roles: integrating waged labour and domestic labour
The high cost of the domestic ideal, so pervasively portrayed by the advertising
industry and the mass media, and built into housing policy, has been a potent force
in encouraging, or even forcing, women to enter the labour market. Several studies
have documented the vital importance of a second wage in keeping working-class
families above the poverty line (Hamill, 1978; Piachaud, 1982; Young, 1975).
Since the 1950s there has been a general rise in Britain of women's participation in
waged labour, but the most radical change has occurred in the participation rates for
married women. They have risen from 21% in 1951 to almost 60% in 1980 (see
Oakley, 1981; Statistics Unit, 1982).
As the demand for female labour accelerated, from the 1950s until the mid-1970s,
it became increasingly clear, not least to women themselves, that there were basic
contradictions in urban, economic, and social welfare policies based on the ideological
premise that 'a woman's place is in the home'. For capital, women represented a
reserve army of labour to be recruited or laid off as circumstances changed. Many
women work part-time, in jobs with little security or benefit rights, in order to
continue running their households, shopping, cooking, and engaging in childcare.
Their 'dual role' and the organisation of a transport network in which routes and
capacity are based on full-time employment means that many women are restricted
to the immediate vicinity in their search for work. Further, for many women, their
experience in the labour market actually mirrors work in the home, as they labour in
'female ghettoes' in those agencies of collective consumption that provide the
socialised equivalent of previously household-provided goods and services: restaurants,
schools, hospitals, the social services (Wilson, 1977). In the manufacturing sector,
women's employment is also concentrated in the low-paid jobs of a small number of
industries. In Britain in the late 1970s, for example, just over half of all women in
manufacturing worked in four industries: food; drink and tobacco; electrical
engineering; textiles, and clothing and footwear (EOC, 1980).
Interesting work remains to be done in spelling out the links between changes in
the location of housing and women's role as a reserve army of labour. It was surely
no coincidence that the vast programmes of peripherally located single-family state
and private housing were related to women's postwar withdrawals from the labour
market. Yet, as the economy expanded, the pool of married women on these
suburban estates proved an attractive and flexible source of labour for the lightassembly industries that also began to decentralise and expand in the suburbs. At a
regional level, it is also apparent that the reserve of female labour is becoming an
important factor in industrial restructuring (Hudson, 1980; Lewis, 1981; Massey,
1982). Although the geographical decentralisation of jobs 'for women' is reasonably
well-documented, the implications for class and gender relations at work and in the
family in particular localities at different times remain to be explored.
The 1980s: back to the home?
From about the mid-1970s onwards in Britain, changes in the relationship between
production and reproduction have begun to raise new research questions. Rising
unemployment rates and cuts in state services have been accompanied by a
reassertion of the belief that women should stay at home, with the implicit and
indeed often explicit rider that 'women steal men's jobs'. These changes are of


L McDowell

crucial theoretical and practical significance for the sexual and spatial division of
labour, although recent British studies of unemployment, the cuts, and monetarist
state policies (for example, see Sinfield, 1981; Showier and Sinfield, 1981) have had
little to say about the implications of recent trends for social relations within the
family and for the division of urban space. The general approach to unemployment
is solely in terms of the waged-labour system: the unemployed are defined as those
who are not in waged work. However, increasing concern, both official and academic,
with the informal or black economy has forced the recognition of what feminists
have been stressing for several years: work is not restricted to waged labour, nor does
it take place exclusively in specialised locations in urban space. A return to full
employment is no longer on the political agenda in Great Britain, and it seems clear
that certain groups may never enter or reenter the labour market. Optimistic studies
of the possible consequences of unemploymentPahl's (1980) work in rural Kent is
one exampleenvisage the rise of new forms of economic and domestic organisation.
Pahl (1981) has distinguished three categories of 'work'within the home (the
domestic economy); reciprocal exchange of services within the locality (the communal
economy); and local cash-based transactions (the informal economy). He suggests
that "unemployment could, under certain specified conditions, be a positive benefit"
(Pahl, 1981, page 148). However, the conditions are not specified, and although he
clearly recognises that there are "those who have neither skills, knowledge or
resources to contribute to the informal economy" (1981, page 149), there are no
estimates of the size of this group. Further, he refers to informal support systems
developed by the working class in the past, but ignores Anderson's (1971) important
critique based on a study of family life in nineteenth-century Lancashire. In contrast
to the common stereotypes of supportive networks among working-class families and
neighbours, Anderson (1974) argues that a rational and instrumental attitude was
more normal. Indeed, mere sociability among families and neighbours was relatively
low in nineteenth-century Lancashire towns for fear it might imply other types of
assistance that could not be forthcoming. Poverty placed severe limitations on
kinship and neighbourhood activities, and sudden rejection by kin at times of serious
difficulties was not uncommon until well into this century.
Pahl (1981) has also seriously underestimated the implications of the structure of the
current housing stock. The continuing location of domestic labour within individual
dwellings is, as Beveridge pointed out some forty years earlier, a major constraint on
changing the relations between production and reproduction. As Pahl (1981) found
from his case studies: "a certain amount of money was needed from the formal
economy" (page 155) to purchase the freezers, electric saws, and other goods needed by
each individual household to maintain the basis of the information economy. Too
often their purchase appeared to depend on exploited part-time female waged labour.
First, despite doubts about the conclusions drawn by Pahl (1981), it is possible that
the current trends in Britain and in other advanced industrial economiesunemployment, the growth of the black economy, the changing structure of the
labour market, the growth of nonmetropolitan areas rather than suburbanisation per
semay constitute the beginning of a change in the structure of the social and spatial
relations between home and 'work'. What are urgently needed are local case studies
assessing the implications of these changes for gender differentiation and women's
oppression over time and between places.
Second, even before the spatially uneven impact of unemployment, enormous
variations, both within and between regions and cities, existed in women's participation
in waged labour and in the conditions in which they undertook domestic labour.

Towards an understanding of the gender division of urban space


The implications of these differences remain to be assessed. Detailed historical studies

should uncover the specific nature of the interrelationships of production and
reproduction and of women's domination in earlier periods. Comparisons of the
structure of power relations within working-class families with a long tradition of
female waged labour, as for example in the cotton towns of northwest England, with
those families whose women traditionally have not worked in the labour market may
be revealing. It is mistaken to assume that the dichotomy between home and work,
between men and women's lives, is a fixed, locationally nonspecific relationship.
Finally, the vexed question of class versus gender as the basis for future urban
struggles must be raised. Although spatial differences in household type and structure,
in housing quality, in the provision of goods and services within the home, and in
household locality do not invalidate an analysis that locates women's subordination
in their dual oppression by capitalist and patriarchal social relations, these spatial
differences inevitably limit the potential for women to unite and organise as women.
The majority of women in the city are defined in relationship to men within a
locality instead of in relation to other women in different areas. The continuing
strength of the ideology of the home as haven rather than as workplace, its
significance as an object of conspicuous consumption and as a status indicator, the
local provision of collective goods and services, all reduce the prospect of genderbased urban social movements. Rising rates of unemployment and the consequent
blurring of the social and spatial divisions between home and 'work', for men as well
as for women, seem to be just as likely to strengthen and solidify class-based urban
cleavages as to provide a new focus for urban struggles. However, neither class nor
gender divisions should be ignored, but the two integrated in an analysis that has the
changing relations between production and reproduction at its heart.
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1983 a Pion publication printed in Great Britain